News

Early signs good for RISD ‘13 budgeting

Move afoot in legislature to restore some state funds

School budget planners throughout Texas—including the Rockdale ISD—are heartened this week after an influential state senate committee recommended restoring about one-fourth of the state education funds sliced in the previous session.

School budget planning is complex and notoriously hard to predict—the impact on the ongoing “sequester” is yet to be measured—but there’s no doubt the Senate Finance Committee’s recommendation to increase public education spending by $1.4 billion is good news at a perfect time.

“Certainly an additional $300,000 to $500,000 would be helpful to our 2013- 14 budget process,” Dr. Howell Wright, Rockdale ISD superintendent, said.

That’s an estimate of how much the $1.4-billion recommendation, if approved by the full Senate, endorsed by the House of Representatives and signed by the governor, would mean as Rockdale ISD prepares its new budget.

PRESSURE—The apparent change in direction by legislators is being welcomed throughout the state’s educational community.

“I believe this year’s conversation (on) returning lost dollars is a result of parent and public pressure,” Dr. Wright said.

Two weeks ago more than 2,000 persons attended a rally at the state capitol urging legislators to increase state spending on public education.

But wild cards remain, including the state supreme court’s ruling on a lawsuit by more than 600 school districts, including Rockdale ISD, against the state over the mechanics of funding. The plaintiffs won at the district court level.

“I’m not sure how the Legislature is looking at this (increased funding) proposal because the pending lawsuit, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will cost the state additional dollars in a year or two, depending on when it is settled,” Dr. Wright said.

Dr. Wright said he did not see increasing funding for education as a trend in Texas.

DEFICITS—The Rockdale ISD has made deep cuts in spending over the past two years, including cutting teaching positions through attrition and early retirement packages.

And recent budgets have run deficits. But early indications point to a turnaround of sorts, even if the RISD can’t yet count on the proposed state funding increase.

“We have to use current law (for estimates) because we are a July budget instead of an August budget,” Dr. Wright said. “We will have to take the best estimation at the most conservative level in order to protect the district from depleting its fund balance,” he said.

“We are in the budget process and are confident we will have a budget with a much lower deficit than we did in the past year,” he said.

Dr. Wright said concerns in upcoming budgets include helping to improve security, repairing aging roofs in a timely manner and ensuring that buildings are climate controlled.

SEQUESTER—The federal sequester that kicked in Friday morning is expected to cut federal funds directed to the RISD by about 10 percent.

Dr. Wright said Title (federal program) funds could be cut between $42,000 and $70,000, and the district’s 21st Century Grant between $34,000 and $57,000.

“Plus, we were already going to be cut nine percent of Title funding, another $63,000, from previous proposed costs,” he said.

The federal cuts will also slice between $19,800 and $33,000 “ pass- through” funds from Burleson-Milam Special Services Co-Op. Rockdale ISD serves as fiscal agent for the co-op which serves a number of school districts in the two-county area.


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